Pros: Unparalleled beauty; sumptuous interior; finally, performance to match its gorgeous looks
Cons: Exceptionally expensive; cramped rear seats; limited practicality due to smallish cabin
What's New: The 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S takes what was already one of the most visually stunning sedans and adds an extra dollop of beauty and power to make the $199,950 4-door even more desirable. With a more aggressive nose outfitted with a larger grille and an enlarged rear lip, the Rapide S certainly looks like it runs stronger -- and, in fact, it is the most powerful Aston Martin sedan in history, thanks to the 6.0 liter V12, which gains 80 horsepower for a total of 550 hp. Torque also rises to 457 lb-ft, and the lower end of the power curve is now more generous for swifter acceleration. Aston Martin says the Rapide S model's 0-to-60 miles per hour time has improved by .4 seconds compared to its predecessor.
Carbon dioxide emissions and fuel efficiency have both been improved despite the power boost, though you shouldn't expect big gains in miles per gallon when rolling in this Aston: The manufacturer estimates fuel economy figures of 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway, for a combined 15 mpg. Pedestrian safety has been improved, thanks to new impact dynamics that meet government requirements -- lowering the engine over an inch and enabling the hood to absorb more energy and act as a trampoline. Other improvements include a third setting for the cockpit-adjustable suspension, which also uses automatically stiffening damping based on throttle and brake positions, steering wheel rotation and vehicle speed. The newest Rapide S also gains a soft touch, self-closing trunk.
Comfort & Utility
While its buttery leather seats are accommodating -- especially up front -- the utility level of the 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S is compromised by its rear transaxle, which encroaches on the rear seats with a massive transmission tunnel. Though the seatbacks fold flat, extending the trunk area, there's still a modest limit to the amount of extra space for storage.
While the Aston Martin Rapide S is based on an advanced extruded and bonded aluminum chassis that offers lightweight construction, most of the technology in this high-priced sedan is centered around the craftsmanship and interior and exterior finishes. In fact, places you might expect to see flashes of advanced electronics tend to lack signs of sophistication, such as the Rapide's multimedia system, which is woefully behind the times in terms of interface and ease of use. At least those deficiencies are counteracted by stunning wood, leather, carbon fiber and Alcantara surfaces. Technology is also sprinkled throughout the chassis, such as the alloy torque tube, which mates the engine to the transmission, and the carbon fiber driveshaft.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Rapide's combined fuel economy estimate of 15 mpg is unexceptional, but its performance is certainly noteworthy: Because of its improved engine output, this sleek sedan now scoots to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, and top speed has been raised to 190 mph. European carbon dioxide emissions also have been dropped 7 percent, despite the engine's lustier performance. A new Track setting on the adaptive damping system enables a stiffer suspension, matching the Rapide's higher performance thresholds.
Apart from the usual cadre of airbags, crumple zones, tire pressure monitoring systems and electronic stability control software, Aston Martin doesn't disclose much information about their safety systems -- which is not to say that the manufacturer isn't concerned about occupant safety, but rather that their marketing is directed more toward luxury and performance.
The Aston Martin's V12 fires up with a snarl, and tapping the right paddle shifter clicks the transmission into first gear -- though there's also an unusual sequence of dash-mounted buttons for gear selection, if you're so inclined to go the more archaic route. Aston Martin's hydraulic steering setup feels somewhat light but accurate, and in standard drive mode acceleration is fairly brisk, if curtailed by early upshifts. Press the Sport button on the dash, however, and the 6-speed automatic transmission enables the engine to rev more freely, revealing the more satisfying aspects of this car's silky smooth V12.
Lay into the throttle with enthusiasm and the Rapide's acceleration makes it feel more like a sports car than a sedan. With the chassis stiffness, suspension tuning and the engine's flexible powerband and eagerness to spin quickly, it's easy to forget there are two extra seats behind the cockpit. Ride quality can be supple or stiff depending on driver adjustable settings and the suspension's adaptive parameters, but the Rapide always tends to feel buttoned down, not floaty or vague. It may not have the extreme performance of some more potent competitors, but for an elegant sedan with old-world appeal, the Aston Rapide S is a surprisingly mighty performer with crisp and satisfying dynamics.
Other Cars to Consider
Bentley Flying Spur: Bentley's entry-level sedan enjoys a complete redesign this year, and based on the outgoing $184,200 model, the VW-owned British brand is a strong contender when it comes to luxurious details and performance that belies its bulk.
Porsche Panamera: Though it's no beauty queen, the Porsche Panamera offers compelling functionality and a broad range of available variants, from a $75,850 base model all the way to the $175,300 Turbo S version, which is capable of reaching 60 mph in only 3.6 seconds.
Rolls-Royce Ghost: At $250,000, the Ghost is a bit pricier than the Aston Martin Rapide S. But based on where it lives in the ultra-luxury microcosm, we expect it to be frequently cross-shopped against the Rapide thanks to its plush accommodations and stately presence.
Aston Martin customers tend to be a particular bunch, focused more on discretion and subtlety than flashiness. That said, they're usually mega-income individuals with numerous vehicles in one household, making their Aston Martins the second, third, fourth or even ninth car of their fleet. Considering those priorities, the Rapide S ticks more boxes than ever when it comes to its place in this rarefied realm. Its performance is more satisfying, its appearance more contemporary and its luxury more refined, making it an easy addition to the garages of those who simply can't have enough luxury in their lives.